As much as I've enjoyed the Royals' surprising early-season success, I'm still not kidding myself. They're not especially likely to be in the playoff picture during the summer's dog days. Even closer than August contention, though, is the MLB All-Star Game.
The all-star game will be an especially big deal next year, when the event is heading to Kansas City. There might even be hope for multiple Royals to represent the American League in their home park. But this year, it's almost sure to be the status quo for the Royals.
What is the status quo, you ask? The Royals have not had more than one all-star since 2003 when, somewhat amazingly, Mike MacDougal represented the team along with perennial all-star Mike Sweeney. Here is the list of Royals representatives since 2003:
2004: Ken Harvey
2005: Mike Sweeney
2006: Mark Redman
2007: Gil Meche
2008: Joakim Soria
2009: Zack Greinke
2010: Joakim Soria
What stands out about that list is the inclusion of Ken Harvey and Mark Redman, who as it turns out were not actually star-caliber players. But the rest of the list hasn't done much in the big game either.
A position player has not made the team since Sweeney in '05 and a Royals player has not recorded a hit in the all-star game since, brace yourself now, 1989! Royals fans who were around back then will remember that Bo Jackson led off that game with a monstrous home run on his way to an MVP performance. But since then, nothing.
The pitching has been a bit better, but Soria didn't even enter the game last year. Neither did Meche in 2007, Redman in 2006 or MacDougal in 2003. Zack Greinke struck out two in one inning of work in 2009, and Soria pitched 1.2 innings in 2008 without giving up a run. Jose Rosado made the team in 1997 and 1999, memorably earning the win in '97 despite giving up a game-tying home run to Javy Lopez of the Atlanta Braves in his only inning of work.
The point is that the all-star game hasn't exactly been a trail of glittery memories for the Royals, and probably won't be until 2012. For now they are guaranteed at least one all-star, per MLB rules, and that is all they're likely to get.
So who will represent the Royals in 2011? Let's take a look at the contenders, in order from least to most likely:
Nate Adcock: Might have been in contention for the spot before going just 2.2 innings and allowing seven earned runs last night, ballooning his ERA to 4.07. It was disappointing to see his regression following a five-inning, three-hit performance in his previous trip through the rotation. He had a 1.66 ERA before last night's performance, so he still has value. But his hopes of being a Rule 5 all-star were essentially dashed last night when he got bombed in Texas.
Joakim Soria: Not his year. The guy seems like he's blown more leads this year than in the rest of his career combined. It will be nice to see a fresh face representing the Royals this year.
Eric Hosmer: Yes, I realize that he is arguably the Royals' best player. But he's got a couple of things going against him. One, by missing the first month-plus of the season he would have to put up Pujols-ian numbers to match up statistically with guys who have been in the bigs all year.
Two, he plays one of the most competitive positions in the American League. Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez and Paul Konerko also play first base. Heck, Hosmer isn't even on the ballot for the Royals. That honor was bestowed upon Kila Ka'aihue.
Saying that, his slick fielding and .833 OPS have been an encouraging beginning for Hosmer. He will makes plenty of these games before his career is over.
Billy Butler: He is probably my favorite Royal, and he's having a productive season. His .392 OBP places him third among first basemen in the American League. If you wanted to get into the details, you might point out that Butler hasn't played first base since early April. And you'd be right.
But there are other reasons why Butler doesn't stack up. His .808 OPS is nothing special for a 1B/DH type, and his 17 extra-base hits and three home runs show that something is lacking in the power department. He's a valuable guy to have, especially on the swing-happy Royals, but he is not an all-star.
Jeff Francouer: I have trouble grading Francouer out because I keep waiting for his precipitous decline to begin. It just hasn't happened yet. Francouer leads the Royals with nine homer runs, and his respectable .827 OPS puts him seventh among American league outfielders. His notoriously poor OBP is actually sitting at a respectable .332. He should have a legitimate shot at being the Royals representative.
Unfortunately, he's not even the best outfielder on the team. And I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Alex Gordon: Gordon has been a revelation out of the leadoff spot in the Royals order, and has now raised his OPS to .838, good for fifth among AL outfielders. The nine games that he's played from the leadoff spot have essentially been the best games of his season.
His OPS is .975 over the span. He's doubled his season's total of home runs, hitting three from the top spot to give him six for the season. He's walking and slugging at a greater rate. Ned Yost needs to be given all the credit for having the gall to hit Gordon third for the first part of the season, and also for putting Hosmer into that spot and Gordon at the top of the order at the right time. Both guys seem to be thriving in their new roles.
Gordon could sneak into an underwhelming American League outfield if he can stay consistent for the month of June. If he can maintain his .838 OPS out of the leadoff spot, then he's the most valuable and deserving player on the team.
But since when does that player get the nod? I have a hunch that the Royals all-star bid could go to a more valuable all-star game player with some gaudier statistics.
Aaron Crow: Crow is an interesting case, because you wouldn't call a reliever with 25.2 innings pitched the most valuable player on the team. But I think Crow has a chance to be an Evan Meek-type all star, the Pittsburgh Pirates reliever who was the sole representative for the Pirates last season. Meek had a 1.11 ERA in the first half of 2010 with 45 strikeouts in 48.2 innings pitched.
Crow compares favorably to that. He's pitched 25.2 innings with a minuscule 0.70 ERA this season. He's recorded 26 strikeouts and just nine walks. Crow has really only had one bad game all season, and that statement doesn't even need a caveat. He has literally only given up runs in one game this season. A one inning, three hit, two earned runs outing on May 7 is the only blip on the radar. That outing took his ERA from 0.00 to 1.10, and it has been lowering ever since.
With the ever-looming possibility that Crow could get placed in the rotation, his innings and strikeout numbers might just elevate in a hurry.
If he can keep his ERA below 1.00, I think he will represent the Royals in the 2011 MLB All-Star Game.